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Ili fights his way into NZ Breakers frame

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 18/01/2017 Angelo Risso

In his first year as a full-time Australian NBL player, Breakers point guard Shea Ili wasn't expecting more than the occasional stint on court.

Yet fast-forward three months and a full-blown injury crisis and the 24-year-old Kiwi has become a pivotal cog in his side's ANBL finals tilt.

Ili, 24, came into the season with a lower back stress fracture and couldn't even hit the gym until late October, let alone train with his teammates.

Yet since his on-court return in late November, the softly-spoken Aucklander has been able to capitalise on a host of injuries to cement a spot as stand-in point guard.

Crocked ex-imports Ben Woodside and David Stockton came and went, while Corey Webster underwent hip surgery in January and has endured legal problems.

The absences have enabled Ili, a former Breakers development player, to play almost 20 minutes per game on average and score a total of 44 points.

Only new recruit Kevin Dillard stands ahead of the Tall Black in the point guard pecking order.

"Coach talked to me last year and said he wanted to sign me and said I wouldn't be playing big minutes, but with all the injuries, I've had that opportunity," Ili said.

"I didn't know if I was going to get the minutes I'm getting now, it's awesome to get out there."

Having played a combined 39 minutes in the Breakers' last two games against Sydney and Brisbane, Ili came in for special praise from boss Paul Henare, who praised the point's maturity and grit.

Ili said he was pleased to receive the good graces of the boss, having slowly grown into life as a full-time ANBL player since his back injury.

He hoped his increased role continued into this week's clashes with Illawarra and Perth, with the sixth-placed Breakers looking to stay in the finals hunt.

"Now I'm seeming to get into that groove, starting to find my way around the court," Ili said.

"I don't like to talk about myself too much but it definitely gives a person confidence when the coach is talking about you."

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